Academy to get bigger, better visitor center in coming years

City For Champions project calls for funding of new facility

photo by Rob Carrigan
The center was built with donated and borrowed funds totaling $4.5 million. The private organizations which donated the building to the Air Force named it in honor of retired Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater, an avid supporter of the academy. The facility opened its doors in June 1986.
Danny Summers
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As part of the City For Champions project, the Air Force Academy will get funding for a new visitor center.

But when or exactly where it will be constructed won’t be determined until at least early next year.

Academy spokesman David Cannon said on Dec. 18 that the Air Force’s Financial Management Center of Expertise in Denver will perform a study over the next month that will help to determine where the next facility should be built.

“Once the study is complete it will be presented to Academy Superintendent Lt. General Michelle D. Johnson for her review,” Cannon said.

The current visitor center, which is named after former Arizona senator and Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, is located near the famed Academy Chapel. The visitor center is about 32,000 square feet and includes a theater and exhibit area, gift shop and small restaurant.

The center was built with donated and borrowed funds totaling $4.5 million. The private organizations which donated the building named it honor of Goldwater. The facility opened its doors in June 1986.

Funding for the new visitor center from the City For Champions project will be spread out over 30 years. The Academy is expected to receive about $200,000 to $220,000 every year for 30 years, according to Cannon. That grand total would be between $6 and 8 million.

Cannon does not have exact figures, but estimates are that a new visitor center would cost “$20 to $25 million.”

“People ask me all the time ‘Where would that money come from?’” Cannon said. “The likelihood of getting a military contract project through Congress is not very high. We will have to look at donors to offset the costs.”

The Academy has up to five years to break ground on the new facility, Cannon said. But he added that he does not expect the process to take that long.

“It could be two years, it could be three years, we’re not sure,” Cannon said.

According to statistics from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Academy’s visitor center and chapel is the No. 1 man-made attraction in Colorado Springs. That is the case despite the fact that visitors have to travel about five miles by car off Interstate 25 into the cadet area to reach the attractions.

The City for Champions proposal calls for the new “Air Force Academy Gateway at Falcon Stadium Visitors Center” to be located at the nexus of visitor destinations on the Academy campus, adjacent to Falcon Stadium, with a renewed focus on visitor engagement.

The Gateway at Falcon Stadium Visitors Center component will be part of the overall master-planned Gateway at Falcon Stadium, and will be the first stop in a visitor’s journey through the Academy.

The new facility would be about 32,000-square-feet and will be home to the Academy’s museum and athletic hall of fame. The Gateway at Falcon Stadium will serve as the starting point for Academy Tours, circulator bus connections to the Academy campus, and for access to a myriad of Pikes Peak region activities.

The Gateway at Falcon Stadium Visitors Center will be the cornerstone to the overall experience.

“We want it to be an eye-popping structure that would attract people,” Cannon said. “We would hope to entice people to leave the interstate and head to the visitor center.”

According to the City for Champions web site, the Academy was once a top tourist destination in the state. But after Sept. 11, 2001, Academy visitors decreased dramatically, from 700,000 annually to a mere 200,000 because of the necessary security for the campus becoming more important than visitor access.